The central idea of the book of Leviticus has to do with k’dushah — separating things from other things — creating a holy boundary. Inside the Mishkan (tabernacle) are the holy things — those vessels and sacrifices the priests are taking care of. Outside are those things, animals and people that are not sanctified to God. My concern here is for those gay and lesbian couples who are being left out.
The tradition in a Jewish wedding ceremony is for the bride to circle the groom seven times. What is created under the chuppah is a holy place. The ceremony itself is called kiddushin, “holiness.” The priests in the Mishkan set a boundary and within that boundary a connection to God is created. God says, “Through those near to Me, I will show Myself holy”(Leviticus 10:3). An adherence to certain rituals by the priests allows the Divine Presence to draw near to the priests and the people. In the same way, during kiddushin, we create an intimate place through our wedding rituals where God’s presence is felt.
In recent weeks, more than ever, we’ve been faced with a challenge to our moral ideas of right and wrong as they relate to same-sex marriage. Can we sense the tension between those who are allowed within that “holy” boundary to feel God’s presence at their most intimate public union, and those who are not allowed to enter that space? I contend that the controversial verse in Leviticus may refer to an abusive relationship or a cultic practice and not to a condemnation of homosexuality. Whether you read Leviticus 18 literally or not, we must be sensitive to those who love each other and struggle with a culture that does not wish to allow God to show a divine face to them in a sacred wedding ceremony.
In the Talmud, Rabbi Eleazar taught, “Greater is the one who carries out an act of charity more than one who offers all the sacrifices.” He continued, “An act of charity is rewarded only in accord with loving kindness which is connected with it.” In Judaism, our desire is to promote k’dushah in the world and in everyday life through our acts of love, compassion, kindness and charity.
Despite Leviticus’ tedious recitation of details on the sacrificial cult — of heave offerings, wave offerings, peace, sin, whole offerings — what is at its very foundation is the high-minded sentiment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the refrain: “Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”
News commentator Bill O’Reilly said last week, “I support civil unions. I always have. The gay marriage thing, I don’t feel that strongly about it one way or another.” I do feel very strongly. There is no “gay marriage thing”! Marriage by its very name, kiddushin, is a very important matter. Civil unions may be recognized by the state, but marriage is a sanctified experience that is recognized by your religion and by God. When you get married you join the Divine Presence in the union of two soul mates. Let us no longer separate from our holy spaces those who desire to be joined together because they love each other and they love their Judaism. Let us be dedicated to these truths therefore:
Whoever greets an old person, meets the presence of God
Whoever rises before his teacher, meets the presence of God
Whoever loves his parents, meets the presence of God
Whoever comforts the mourner, meets the presence of God
Whoever rejoices with bride and groom or bride and bride or groom and groom, meets the presence of God
Leo Baeck emerged from the horror and nightmare of the Holocaust, a moment in history where the human spirit was diminished and the image of God darkened to the world. He insisted: “To seek God is to strive for the good. To find God is to do the good.” Let us do the good and open our holy spaces to those left on the fringe.
Excerpted from a sermon delivered on Friday, April 5, 2013.